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Letter from Mapleton: Harbingers of Spring

03/21/2019

By Kimberley Wright

Letter from Mapleton: Harbingers of Spring  first appeared in Islandport Magazine, Spring 2019 

Our idea of dating was taking long walks around Presque Isle and on the municipal bike path. My husband and I were, and still are, introverts by nature. We’d walk hand in hand, noticing signs of spring. The smell of mud and new grass, the sight of buds on the trees popping out, and the sound of returning robins made us excited for longer days and warmer weather. 

Winters are long here in Aroostook County, and this winter is no exception. A recent weather report for our area stated that we have the most snow through February ever recorded. Also, as of the last Tuesday in February, we are ahead of the record set in the 2007-8 winter, when we were blessed with 197.8 inches of snow. We have another snow day today. Schools, many businesses, and roads are closed, but it’s not because of falling snow. It’s because of the forty- to forty-five-mph wind gusts blowing that snow over roads, driveways, parking lots, and paths to oil and kerosene fill-pipes. 

I mention the fill-pipes because my husband has recently retired from teaching middle school and taken up his dream job as an oil delivery driver. He thought it would be a challenging job with hard physical labor, and he felt his introvert nature would be compatible with the job. He wasn’t wrong on either of those counts. He tells stories of trudging through thigh-deep snow, hauling a frozen hose 100 or more feet up driveways or behind people’s houses to deliver oil. Some folks should do a better job of keeping their pathways clear, but others simply can’t. There are elderly people on fixed incomes who can’t do the work themselves, nor can they hire someone to do the work for them. And there are people who are sick, likely sick from the short, frigid winter days and piles and piles of snow. But my husband brings home a sense of gratitude for having provided a vital service. 

Despite all this talk of winter days, my husband and I are thinking about harbingers of spring. I, too, am a school teacher, and this week I will reserve a date at a nearby maple farm for a field trip. My fourth graders will learn about the process of making maple syrup and about it being one of Maine’s unique farm industries. We’ll stomp through the mud when we are there and make maple taffy on the snow. The children especially love the maple-flavored cotton candy they bring home with them. 

Our track and field season is right around the corner, too. I coach at the middle school, and the track is on top of a hill. It is always at least ten degrees colder there than anywhere else in town, and the wind is always blowing. To be properly dressed while coaching, I keep the following gear in my vehicle: two layers of a hooded windproof and waterproof winter jacket, a wool hat, wool mittens, a neck warmer, an extra pair of oversized lined wind pants, and multiple packages of hand-warmers. I also keep light gear should we be so lucky to have a mild day on the track. Last year, the high school team shoveled off a 100-meter stretch so all of us would have at least a little piece of the track to work out on. They had hot chocolate and doughnuts to help. 

I look forward to sprouts of long dormant plants coming up in my garden. The deep red shoots of peony bushes remind me that in a couple of months the bushes will be drooping with full, sphere-shaped blossoms of delicate pinks, white, and deep magenta. I walk from bush to bush checking the progress of the stubby shoots and let out a breath of relief knowing they are getting taller, bringing us to fairer weather. The purple and yellow crocuses lift their voices and shout, “Hallelujah! The snow has been lifted from  us. We can breathe!” The tulips are strong. They open their petals and their beautiful inside kaleidoscopes turn upward, basking in the warm sun, welcoming a new spring. 

There are, of course, the more typical harbingers of spring: kids ride their bikes and there’s talk of the baseball season starting up. My sister and I used to pester our parents to get our bikes out. They were of the mind that bikes should not come out until the ground was completely dried up. Now, as an adult, I can understand their perspective. Mud stripes up our backs and deep ruts in our dirt driveway meant more work for them. One spring, though, when we got new bikes, we were allowed to ride them in our house, up and down the hallway. Not many parents probably let their kids do that. 

Our university has a short baseball season. It’s probably not so much short as it is cold and snowy. At one time the athletic director was known to take the snowblower up to the baseball diamond on campus to snowblow the field for practices and home games. Now the team uses the baseball diamond at the high school for their home games, but the team is mostly on the road traveling downstate and out of state for their games. 

This season called winter may be long, especially this year in Aroostook County, but harbingers of spring are  coming. What do they look like in your community? Better yet, when will you see them start to arrive? Talk about them with your friends and family members. Whether it’s children bike riding or the piles of snow shrinking, we should share and celebrate them. In the meantime, my husband and I will continue to bundle up, shovel snow, and make fires in the woodstove. The robins won’t be returning for a while, but the chickadees, blue jays, and nuthatches will keep us company until they do return. And I know they will. 

Kimberley Wright is a teacher at Mapleton Elementary School and coaches cross country and track and field at Presque Isle Middle School. She lives in Mapleton with her husband, and they have two grown daughters. Kimberley has published various articles including those in  Echoes.